With holiday spending and gluttony behind us, and a new year with resolutions before us, tackling financial goals while eating healthy can feel like an impossible task.
It’s fairly easy to find examples of healthy foods that are more expensive than other processed, prepackaged options. A pound of fresh strawberries, for example, costs $5.97 in one store, while a pound of name-brand cookies cost $3.37. A couple dollars might not seem like much for most, but for some, it can be a deal-breaker.
But a South Surrey nutritionist, who has first-hand experience shopping on an extremely tight budget, said there are a plethora of ways shoppers can save cash while avoiding cheap, processed foods.
Jory Bright said that shortly after she got married, she and her husband moved to Australia for three years.
Upon arriving in the country, they had little money and there was an issue with securing work visas. After other expenses, Bright said they had about $200 per month for their food budget.
“In that period of time, I actually ate healthier than I ever had, by accident,” she said. “I still had the intention to eat healthy, but I didn’t have the money.”
As it turned out, the cheapest food items the newlyweds could afford were actually among the healthiest selections.
“I believe that healthy food is, generally, unprocessed food. So whole grains rather than flours, crackers, bread, and stuff like that. You’re looking for whole grains and fruits and vegetables.”
In her case, she found that quinoa, bananas, spinach, oats, rice, and beans delivered the most nutrition per dollar spent.
“We mainly lived off that. Every once in a while I would have enough money to get a chicken skewer,” she said. “We lived off that for months and both me and my husband saw amazing improvements to our health, it was incredible.”
One of Bright’s tips for making a nutritious meal is to keep it simple. She suggested it’s OK to have a meal with just two components, such as salad and potatoes or rice and vegetables, rather than three or four different items on a plate.
“Simple meals are great for the budget and come with a huge health bonus of giving you more energy. That’s because more complicated meals with a lot of different foods means your digestive system has to work harder to digest your food, leaving you tired after eating.”
A misconception about healthy food choices is that all sugar is bad. What’s key to consider is where is the sugar coming from and what it is mixed with.
“I used to eat four to six bananas for breakfast. Because it was all on an empty stomach, all of the sugars in the bananas did not affect me in the way people are afraid of sugar. Our brain runs on sugar, runs on glucose. But as soon as you mix sugar with fat or with protein, it makes it hard for the brain to access it and the muscles to access it. So if you eat fruit alone, the sugars don’t make you gain weight, the sugars instead make your brain work better and your body work better.”
White sugar, she clarified, comes with a “whole host of problems.”
“But I actually think that honey and fruit is awesome and it changed my life once I realized how to use them and not to mix them with other meals.”
In a series of tips, Bright suggested people look for whole grains, quinoa, rice, beans, and steel cut oats over bread, pasta, muffins, cookies and cereals.
Simple meal ideas for a family on a budget include fruit smoothies or steel-cut oats with bananas and cinnamon for breakfast. For lunch and dinner, she suggested roasted potatoes with salad; or a stir fry with meat and veggies or veggies and noodles; quinoa salad with fresh cilantro, tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers and feta; or curries over quinoa or rice with fresh spinach chopped and sprinkled in. Another simple recipe is beans, rice, and vegetables.”
To enhance the flavour, Bright suggested families familiarize themselves with different spices
“I always like to have honey, salt, pepper, garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes, ginger and tamari (soya sauce) in my pantry, which quickly flavour a lot of food,” she said. “Pick up sauces at the store like salad dressings, stir fry sauces, and pesto to add to rice bowls, salads, stir fries or make homemade (sauces). The sauce often makes everything, so explore until you find ones you love.”
Bright owns South Surrey’s You Matter Nutrition. To learn more about her practice, or to learn about nutrition, visit you-matter-nutrition.com